Friday, August 31, 2007

Fruit of the Month Club VI

This month’s fruit of the month is...well...I have no idea what it is. Looking for interesting fruits we’d never tried before, we picked this up at the grocery store recently, but later we realized there was no name on the label.

It seems to be among those fruits and vegetables that exist for hydration, more than flavor, although it did taste a little sweet. Its appearance and texture are a strange combination, perhaps something like a red pepper or an apple. It’s pretty refreshing when served cold on a hot day, though.

But can anyone tell us what it is?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Out of My League?

It took months, but my local Singaporean friends have finally talked me into it: I have joined a bowling league. And not only have I joined a league, I am now the (proud?) owner of a bowling ball and bowling shoes. The shoes make my feet look enormous, which may be because the Asian women on my team have size 4 feet, but at least I know who’s been wearing them. And I admit that it’s fun to roll my very own ball (blue, with gold flecks) down the lane every Friday.

Lest you get the wrong impression, I am still as lousy a bowler as I ever was. In the US, I subbed in a few times for our team in the company league (with the best team name ever for a publishing group: Helvetica Bowld), and I managed to achieve the dubious distinction of the highest handicap in the league. But with luck and practice, perhaps I’ll improve.

Plus, it’s a chance to spend time with an international group of women I’d be unlikely to meet anywhere else. On my team are three Malay Singaporeans. Last week we played against a Filipina team. I’ve met interesting, accomplished women from England, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Israel, Pakistan, China, Thailand, and Indonesia. (Oddly, no other Americans, so far.) But there are also lots and lots of Singaporeans, as bowling is practically the national sport.

Singaporeans are hugely enthusiastic about their bowling. This might be because the lanes are indoors and air-conditioned; playing outdoor sports here involves a revolting quantity of sweat, except if you play at dawn or dusk, which are prime mosquito-feeding times. Or perhaps it’s an extension of the Singaporean love for all things American; the bowling pro who bored the holes in my ball told me all the bowling supplies and equipment were imported from the US. (Thankfully, this meant he had my shoe size.) It’s true that I’m a minor celebrity in the league just for having lived near a town with “Brunswick” in the name.

But whatever the reason, surprising numbers of people here are dedicated bowlers. When Joey’s office recently had a bowling outing, so many of them bowled in leagues that they had to group people into teams very carefully to avoid letting league team members play together. I think Joey was the only one without his own ball. And many Singaporeans start bowling early in life - the real bowling, mind you, not the birthday-party kind with bumpers in the gutters. A local friend of mine in her early 40s (and, it goes without saying, a league bowler) recently showed me her thumbs. The left one was perfectly straight, but the right one had a slight S-curve to it. “See?” she said. “That’s what thirty years of bowling every week will do. But it’s worth it, lah!”

And although I don’t have quite that much devotion to bowling, I do think it’s “worth it” to bowl for a season or two. Because who would’ve thought that American bowling would be a window onto life in Singapore?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Missing National Day

August 9th was Singapore’s 42nd National Day, and I can’t say it was a banner day for us. Perhaps it’s because we’d already missed our own US Independence Day celebration: the lone American fireworks display was the weekend before July 4th, when we were in Taiwan. But that aside, on National Day we felt more like outsiders than ever, as all the “real” Singaporeans celebrated their belonging.

Not to mention, we hadn’t managed to snag seats for the highly anticipated National Day extravaganza. Singapore recently closed down its 55,000-seat stadium (to make way for a new “sports center” of approximately the same size), so this year the festivities were to be held on a floating platform in the bay, with seating for only about half the usual guests. We didn’t know whether foreigners were allowed to queue for tickets, but we figured even if we were, we’d never out-queue 5 million Singaporeans.

So we decided to celebrate by staying home, watching the show on TV, and enjoying a tradition of our own: making Chinese dumplings. Ever since we met, we’ve been making them together and teaching countless friends how to fold the little circular wrappers around the filling just right, so the dumplings turn out the perfect crinkly shape.

It’s been fairly easy in the US, as we’ve always just bought the wrappers at our local Asian food market. But here in Singapore, where you’d think they’d all be “Asian food markets,” they stock nothing of the kind. We tried wonton wrappers and got chewy, eggy dumplings in completely the wrong shape. We tried paper-thin wrappers used for steaming and ended up eating shreds of burst dumplings after the wrappers stuck to the pan. It just wasn’t the same.

So this time, we rolled out the wrappers ourselves, through many painful hours of trial and error: Dough too stiff, dough too sticky and impossible to remove from rolling pin. Dough I tried to roll out on our old dining table, for more space, that peeled off neat little strips of the table’s wood finish. (Time to make a new batch of dough...) Dough that rolled out square, not circular, no matter what we tried. And, once I finally got it right and had a pile of them, each carefully separated by dustings of flour, it had taken so long that they had congealed into a single, inseparable column. There was nothing to do but start over.

We’d started midmorning, and by sunset we had worked out our technique: Joey rolled one, and I folded it. And if either of us got ahead of the other, we’d dart over to the TV to see what we were missing at National Day. Conversation was odd that evening: “Here’s one to fold.” “Okay. Hey! They’re doing military exercises with an Apache from the US!” And later, “I’m putting this batch in the pan now. What am I missing on TV?” “Well, right now it’s schoolchildren dressed like glow-in-the-dark squid, blowing bubbles in time to the music.” (It was a sea theme this year.)

And by the time the show was finally over, and the citizens of Singapore were saying the pledge and singing the national anthem in English and Bahasa, we were finishing up our own celebration, too: the last pan of perfect dumplings was just about ready to eat.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tales We Could Tell

We’re almost through August, with not a single blog entry to show for it. Perhaps it’s that lethargy-inducing summer heat. (No,’s always this hot here.) But for whatever reason, here we are, with time for only one proper posting to represent the better part of a month. So the question arises: Which tale shall we tell?

There’s the gripping story of “How I Nearly Throttled My Landscaper” (alternate titles: “Death of the Carpet Grass” or “It Almost Ate My Mango Tree”).

Or Joey’s tragic tale, “The Mysterious Disappearance of the Noodle-Bowl Stall” (alternate title: “How I Lost My Lunch”).

Or maybe “A Messy Recovery from Tropical Illness.” No? More information than you wanted? Hmm...Perhaps you’d prefer a (slightly) tamer animal story: “Geckos Gone Wild” or “The Night the Dogs Barked til Dawn.”

For the minimalists, we could relate a tale that’s highly unusual for our life in Singapore: “The Day Nothing Happened.” Or if that’s a little too minimal, what about “Missing National Day”?

The votes are in, and “Missing National Day” has won. (It wasn’t our fault most of you were asleep when we voted. That’s just the way the time-zone cookie crumbles!) Now all that remains is the telling.